CLEARWATER, Fla. - Opening day is still three weeks away, but it’s safe to believe that Bryce Harper is ready for the season.
He homered again on Thursday -- his third home run in two days -- in a 5-3 win over the Blue Jays at Spectrum Field. He went 1-for-2 with a walk before leaving the game after the fifth inning. Two of Harper’s three homers have been opposite-field shots to left field.
“That's always a good sign,” manager Joe Girardi said. “And he's always done that. He has power to all fields. You feel like when hitters are able to do that, they're in a pretty good spot. The big key is we have three weeks left. We don't want guys to get bored and peak too early. You try to manage his workload the rest of the way. But he's in a good spot right now.”
Girardi did not know Harper much before the manager was hired this offseason. He watched him from afar, like everyone else, as he managed the Yankees and worked as a broadcaster. So what has he learned about Harper after a few weeks in Florida?
“How professional he is. How hard he works. How hard he plays,” Girardi said. “He has a plan every day. That's one thing we talked to the players about. ‘Have a plan every day. What are you going to do to get better every day?’ I think that's something that, for Bryce, it comes natural to him. He understands what he needs to do. He just goes and does it.”
Rhys Hoskins hit a homer in the fourth inning, but it was his double in the fifth inning that made a bigger impression. Hoskins popped up in the infield, but the ball was misplayed by the first and third basemen and fell to the grass as the fielders tripped over each other.
“I said it looked like that old football drill when three guys lay down over one,” Girardi said.
Hoskins, even though he was a sure bet to be out when he popped up, kept running. And he slid headfirst into second for a hustle double.
“It’s what you try to tell your base runners,” Girardi said. “When you force action and they have to speed up, a lot of times they make a mistake. It doesn’t happen if you don’t run hard out of the box. They still had him. But [the infielder] knew he had to rush. He went down to grab it, and he dropped it. And that’s all it took. So, putting pressure on them forces them to make mistakes.”
Zack Wheeler pitched into the third inning in his second start of spring training, allowing two runs on three hits in 2 1/3 innings. Wheeler struck out two and walked one.
“The whole time, I was wanting to get ahead, because I knew I was falling behind every hitter. But I think that will come just with getting more reps and everything,” Wheeler said. “That’s always been my big thing, and that’s sort of what turned the page for me the past couple years is getting ahead and attacking the strike zone early. Just getting quicker outs. Obviously I fell behind a lot today and I only went 2 1/3.”
Last season, Wheeler worked an 0-1 count in 60.1 percent of his plate appearances that were longer than one pitch. And when he did that, batters hit just .212 with a .545 OPS, compared to .303 with a .887 OPS when Wheeler fell behind 1-0.
“Before every inning, I always tell myself, ‘Get ahead, first-pitch strikes.’ I just couldn’t do it today. I don’t know if I was trying to overthrow a little bit. But like I said, the more reps and the more comfortable I get out there, I’ll settle myself down and do what’s normal.”,
The Phillies removed Jean Segura from Thursday’s lineup about 90 minutes before the first pitch. Segura was sent home with an illness, Girardi said, and Alec Bohm started in his place at third base. Bohm went 1-for-3 and made a nice play, but he also misplayed two balls, as his defense remains a work in progress.
“He has the ability to do it,” Girardi said. “It’s consistency, right? It’s probably getting more plays like that. It’s getting the reps that is important for him. It’s one thing to do it in practice, but when the game happens, everything speeds up a little bit. It’s being able to control everything, being able to control your body. He’s learning how to do that.”
Roman Quinn homered from the left side, as the natural right-handed hitter has returned to switch-hitting. Quinn, in an attempt to stay healthy, scrapped switch-hitting last year, after returning from the injured list. Andrew McCutchen’s injury means Quinn will open the season with a larger role, placing even more importance on the oft-injured Quinn to stay healthy.